Housing proposal debate goes on

August 13, 2003 11:00 pm

By ABBY SOUZA

Nearly 100 people spent six hours over the course of two meetings to debate a housing project Christian Heights Assembly of God wants to build in East Sonora, Tuolumne County Community Development Director Bev Shane warned county supervisors Tuesday.

The board will have its own public hearing on the project early next month. Given how much people have already wanted to say about the project, supervisors should be prepared, Shane said.

"We expect a crowd of over 200 just from opponents of the project," Shane said. "It could take six hours or possibly even longer."

The board decided the Sept. 2 hearing will have to be held at a Mother Lode Fairgrounds building to accommodate the people expected to speak about the project.

The expected length of the hearing worries Board Chairman Mark Thornton, who has commented in the past about the unnecessary "repetitive dialogue" that arises at many public hearings.

Each speaker at the public hearing next month will have four minutes to speak for, against or in general about the project. Rebuttal and surrebuttal, when speakers can comment on what was said by those on the other side, will be limited to two minutes.

Supervisor Dick Pland suggested scheduling a second hearing date in case the Sept. 2 session gets to be too long and needs to be continued.

"Once we start it, I'd rather see it done in one day," Thornton responded.

The board also decided the applicants will get 20 minutes to describe the project at the beginning of the hearing.

Daryl Sarina, the church's business administrator, took the project — 17 senior condominiums, a 3,332-square-foot recreation building and 1,500-square-foot activity center — to the Tuolumne County Planning Commission in the spring. After two commission hearings that included much debate, commissioners denied the project at their May 7 meeting.

The denial came after a county planner miscalculated the homes' square footage by adding garage space to the buildings' square footage. That made some of the would-be homes larger than 2,000 square feet when the condos would actually average about 1,400 square feet, Sarina said.

Opponents, including would-be neighbors, used the miscalculated size as an arguing point against the church, and the discrepancy — revealed to planning commissioners just before their vote — was one reason commissioners gave for denying the application. The lack of environmental information in the church's application — even though Shane said it wasn't called for — and the extra traffic that the project might generate were other issues opponents raised.

Regardless, Thornton said he hopes speakers at the 10 a.m. hearing will be brief.

"You've got four minutes, but if you don't use them, you get extra points," Thornton joked.